Southern Maine Community College has already received 20 applications for a novel training program it’s launching this fall.

The community college is offering a training certificate program within its newly established Construction Institute for people interested in acquiring skills that are in high demand within the construction industry.

Starting in September, students can sign up for courses in building concepts and leveling, print reading, tool safety, construction safety, and framing methods. Maine Quality Centers is sweetening the deal by providing $50,000 – enough to give full scholarships to the first 20 eligible Maine applicants, the size of the institute’s inaugural class.

“Demand has been so strong that SMCC is considering another section this fall so we can take additional students,” said college spokesman Clarke Canfield.

The school is trying to address a workforce need in Maine’s construction industry, which has been having trouble finding workers for years now. Part of the problem is the seasonality of the work, the volatility of contracts connected to boom-and-bust economies, and the offer of higher wages from nearby markets such as Boston.

Jonathan Smith, president of the Associated General Contractors of Maine trade association and Great Falls Construction, said at the program’s unveiling that the industry is trying to train the next generation of construction workers to fill an expanding need, but it needs help.

“Anything we can do along those lines will help,” he said.

One innovative aspect of the program is that students can build on the coursework under their own timetables to earn a one-year certificate, or a two-year degree, in construction technology.

“The Construction Institute teaches skills that are in high demand while allowing individuals to continue their education without having to complete an entire degree program,” SMCC President Ron Cantor in a news release.

More information can be found at www.smccme.edu.

FEDERAL BILL MAY BENEFIT JETPORT

Portland International Jetport officials are lauding Sen. Susan Collins for backing a change in the U.S. Department of Transportation budget that could raise another $3.6 million in fees for the airport.

Collins, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, has backed a bipartisan appropriations bill that includes an increase in the federal cap on local Passenger Facility Charges to $8.50 for originating passengers only. The cap, which is now at $4.50 at an originating airport, was last updated 17 years ago, according to a news release from jetport spokesman Zachary Sundquist.

If the budget is passed and the measure becomes law, the jetport would get the additional fees, which it intends to direct toward $20 million worth of capacity and safety improvements. Among the projects are improving passenger boarding bridges, upgrading the customs facility and expanding the baggage claim area.

“The bill will provide needed investment in our airport infrastructure to support growing passenger volumes, with an efficient connection to the global air transportation system,” jetport Director Paul Bradbury said in a prepared statement. “Sen. Collins has … worked with her colleagues in the Senate to make it easier for airports to support capital improvements, while at the same time not penalizing passengers who travel through multiple airports on their journey.”

SURCHARGE, NO MORE

In early July, Gov. Paul LePage signed a budget that ended a three-day shutdown of state offices and agencies. It also eliminated a controversial 3 percent surcharge on household incomes above $200,000.

The surcharge, which had been passed in a referendum last November to send more money to fund education, has been a political hot potato ever since. But it also has confounded the members of the state’s independent forecasting commission – the body charged with assessing the state’s financial underpinnings and predicting what may happen in the next five years.

All of the commission’s reports issued since the vote have held out caveats that the forecasts could be significantly different depending on the fate of the 3 percent surcharge, and more recently, what might happen in the face of federal tax changes from Washington. Tax experts estimated the additional money from the surcharge would amount to about $124 million for education spending.

In that uncertain environment, the forecasting commission’s most recent report (based on March data) shows some positive indicators. Wages and salaries are projected to grow 3.7 percent in this fiscal year and each fiscal year through 2021. Unemployment is expected to hover around 3.5 percent for the next five years.

The commission’s biggest fear, however, has a familiar ring to it. Demographic worries about an aging and shrinking population dominate economic predictions.

“Overall, the primary source of concern for the (commission) continues to be Maine’s demographic situation, with an aging population and little to no population growth,” says the report. “While 2016 showed strong employment and income growth, there is little confidence that these growth rates will continue into future years, especially as the baby boom generation continues to move into retirement age.”

We don’t know how the forecasts will be revised now that the 3 percent surcharge is dead. A committee of Maine state staffers who use the commission’s report to help make recommendations to the Legislature issued its findings in May, when the fate of the surcharge was still unknown. The commission is scheduled to convene again in November, and the Revenue Forecasting Committee will meet and report in December.

Forecasters expected the surcharge would prompt high-income people to either shift income elsewhere, or delay capital gains payments, which would result in a $250 million reduction in taxable income by the top 1 percent of Maine tax returns. Time will tell if those Mainers moved their money (or themselves) elsewhere to avoid what would have been the second-highest individual tax rate in the country.

No one I know is laying bets on what kind of tax changes might come from Washington, but at least having the 3 percent surcharge settled should help the forecasters conjure a clearer picture of Maine’s finances.

Carol Coultas can be contacted at 791-6460 or at:

[email protected]

 

This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 1 to include meeting dates.